What should I bring with me to Korea?
This is a supplement to the Waegukin big guide to teaching English in Korea.
You can find almost anything you need in Korea – somewhere, at some price. But some things are not easy to come by. Here are some things to consider packing for Korea, if you’re coming here for work or study.
You might miss them.
Deoderant – you can find it here, but it’s not common, and there’s not a lot of variety. East Asians generally are lacking in apocrine sweat glands, and apparently 50% of Koreans have none at all. How civilized! I also have a friend who is Korean-American, and claims that when she came to Korea and switched to a Korean diet, she stopped needing to use deoderant, so possibly diet is a factor as well.
Toothpaste – The foreigner claim is that Korean toothpaste doesn’t have fluoride. I have no idea if this is true or not. What I know is that Korean toothpaste is terrible. It tastes bad, doesn’t foam well, and is of a strange consistency, such that I find it tends to fall off my toothbrush.
Medicines, scripts, etc – There are doctors and chemists here. They tend to speak English quite well. But these things might make your life easier.
Vitamins, health supplements, etc – Available, but tend to be expensive.
Anything else you’re particular about – if you have a particular brand of facewash, makeup etc that you like, then bring it. There is no shortage of such things here, but they may not have what you are accustomed to.
Tampons – I’m told that Koreans tend to use pads.
Condoms – How to put this? A trip to a jjimjilbang will confirm another, less immediately obvious genetic difference about Koreans, as a whole. Some men may find Korean condoms uncomfortable.
There are limits to what you can bring in the way of food. But some things to consider:
Processed meats – tend to be horrible. Bacon is thin, ham is processed, sausages fatty and tasting of chemicals. Salamis are unobtainable*.*Update: I found salami at my local E-mart! Real Primo Spanish Salami, not the pre-sliced stuff. I was momentarily tempted to buy the lot, in case it disappeared, but sanity re-asserted itself. Illustrating the capricious nature of shopping for foreign products in Korea, I couldn’t however find steak knives, which was my reason for going there and which are not usually difficult to obtain.
Herbs and spices – you can buy dried herbs. Fresh herbs are very difficult to find. If you like gardening, consider bringing some seeds – I grow roquette (arugula), basil and parsley. Indian spices are difficult to obtain.
Black tea – Korea has a tremendous variety of teas, but it’s hard to find a simple English Breakfast. If you’re particular to a certain type of black tea, it’s worth bringing a supply that will last you until you can find a source.
Cheese – it’s very, very difficult to find good cheese in Korea, although some of the department stores have decent parmesan and camembert cheese. Unfortunately, cheese doesn’t travel well; you might have to get used to missing it.
Big towels – when you come to Korea, you might be surprised to discover that what you thought was a wash cloth is actually a towel. You can get big towels at department stores, but if it’s a comfort that is important to you, you can probably justify bringing one.
Large or plus-sized clothing – if your shape differs a lot from the ideal Korean form, you will need to bring a good selection of clothes. In reality, Koreans come in all shapes and sizes, and you can find clothes that fit you somewhere, but I’ve heard of regular-sized Westerners having “No plus size!” shouted at them when they go into clothing stores. I’ve also heard that larger cup-sized bras can be difficult.
BlueTack/Adhesive Putty – Korea has the most amazing stationary stores, but this is completely unobtainable. Koreans don’t know what it is. I got some sent over and showed it to my co-teacher, who was dubious at first, until she saw it in action. “Wow, this is so useful,” she said. “Is it reusuable?” “Yes.” “Wow, it’s great!” An import opportunity for somebody.
Things you don’t need to bring
I looked at some other lists on the internet, and there is quite a lot of nonsense on them. Paracetomol, ibuprofen, and cold and flu tablets are all available from any pharmacy (I think some Americans only know them by their brand names, which might be the problem.) Socks are plentiful and cheap. You can buy power converters here – I bought a great all regions one at HomePlus – but it might be easier to pick one up before you arrive.
Keep in mind that Korea is a developed country, home to 50 million people who manage to buy what they need to live without too much trouble. There is no need to panic, nor to ludicrously overpack. Everybody probably has something they wish they had brought with them – but, equally, if you ask them they will tell you things that they brought that they really could have left at home. (For me, I could have saved a lot of money by not buying a wardrobe of professional attire before I came. It would have been cheaper here, and my school wasn’t very formal, anyway.)
Of the other lists of things to pack for Korea, I found this one to be most helpful – it covers a lot of similar ground, but is a bit more exhaustive than mine. I’ve assumed that you will remember to bring your passport without my help.
Anything I’ve missed? Let me know in the comments.